Boys Volleyball: Pickerington Central Tigers taking different, measured approach

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Junior middle hitter Jake Rybka is one of the top players for Central, which returns only one player from 2019 in junior Landon Tackett. Despite the roster turnover, the Tigers did not drop a game in winning their first six matches.

Whether Pickerington Central boys volleyball coach Luke Rininger’s methods to begin the season will work ultimately won’t be known until later in the year.

The Tigers have only one player returning from 2019 in 5-foot-11 junior Landon Tackett, and he changed positions from setting as a freshman to now being one of the team’s expected top middle hitters.

“I’m trying to have them learn one and two things at a time here. Once we get close to mastering that or being good at more advanced stuff, then we move to the next thing,” said Rininger, who is in his ninth season. “I don’t even know if that’s the best strategy to be honest, but I don’t want to overwhelm them and just be OK at a bunch of things. I want to get really good at a couple things and add to that.”

Central did not drop a game in winning its first six matches with two seniors, three juniors and a sophomore in the starting lineup, which nonetheless was shorthanded because of an injury to senior outside hitter Andrew Dhume.

Classmates Corey Sands (right-side hitter) and Sam Winhoven (middle hitter), juniors Evan Gallion (outside hitter/defensive specialist), Jake Rybka (middle hitter) and Tackett and sophomore Gavin Billingsley (setter) anchored the Tigers early.

“The first-year players have stepped up and learned quickly. Some of these guys are in harder positions to learn and even veterans are stepping into new roles,” Rininger said. “When you look at a guy like (Billingsley), he has big shoes to fill and running an offense as a sophomore can be intimidating. Guys are trying to learn footwork, blocking and when to do what.”

INSIDE THE TIGERS

Coach: Luke Rininger, ninth season

Next match: April 15 vs. New Albany

Key athletes: Gavin Billingsley, Landon Tackett, Jake Rybka, Corey Sands and Sam Winhoven

Panthers deal with

lack of experience

North also has seen an overhaul of its roster, with 17th-year coach Marci Truex leading an entirely new varsity lineup.

Only three players have match experience, all at the junior varsity level, in seniors Jackson Nutter (outside hitter) and Ben Slayman (middle hitter) and junior Aidan Rose (setter/defensive specialist).

“We’re learning the game and how important execution of our fundamentals are,” said Truex, whose 2019 team went 16-9 to record the program’s most wins since the Division I state semifinalist team of 2016 finished 22-6. “We have some athletes, which is awesome. They are willing to put the work in and I’m thankful for that. We also have some serious competitors. We have a solid foundation to build on and good team chemistry.”

The roster includes a handful of multisport athletes, including Slayman (basketball) and junior outside hitter Shane Wilson (football). Senior outside hitter Ben Dinsmore previously was in the cross country and track and field programs.

Other contributors include seniors Isaac Hopkins (setter), Sam Prestileo (defensive specialist), David Sandhofer (opposite hitter) and sophomore Demetrius Debellis (libero).

Truex said setting expectations is “tricky” given the composition of the roster.

“My boys are resilient and will keep fighting,” she said. “As long as they give me their best, compete and represent our program and family well, that’s all I can ask. I’m hopeful for wins, always, but I want to see the progression of growth and execution of skills as the season progresses so we can be a more formidable opponent.”

INSIDE THE PANTHERS

Coach: Marci Truex, 17th season

Next match: April 15 vs. Reynoldsburg

Key athletes: Ben Dinsmore, Isaac Hopkins, Jackson Nutter, Aidan Rose and Ben Slayman

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave